The Bread of Life

jesus-bread-life2There once was a young man named Deon. Like many people, Deon felt a profound emptiness inside that was intolerable, and so Deon set out to fill his void. First, he searched for happiness in money, so he got a job. Having extra cash made him happy for a while, but then he began to hate his job and found himself paying co-workers to cover his shifts. Money was failing to bring him happiness, so next he tried pursuing fun. And so he partied and made friends and it was fun…for a while until it felt boring. Fun wasn’t satisfying him, and so he decided to try relationships, hoping that dating women would be the missing ingredient. But as each lady inevitably failed to give him that feeling of fullness, he came up with some reason to blame her, and wandered from one dissatisfying relationship to another. As he continued his quest for a happy life, Deon tried to the fill the hole with drugs, fame, and other pleasures that in the end cast him off and left him feeling lost. Deon says it was much later when he finally discovered why people and things did not fill his hole. He learned his hole was a spiritual problem that requires a spiritual solution to fill.  Deon is a real person, but he is also you and me. He is Adam, Israel, Solomon, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, John Newton, C.S. Lewis, and every prodigal son who has known the empty pursuit of happiness.

We are so easily enticed by things that cannot ultimately satisfy. Some people are so jaded with life that even promises of spiritual nourishment seem doubtful. A hungry man is almost beyond hope when he begins to doubt the very existence of food. On the other hand, some are still wide-eyed enough in their optimism to believe the next “if I just.” If I just practice this spiritual discipline then I’ll be nourished. If I just pursue this adventurous experience, then I’ll be filled full. If I just accomplish this lofty goal, then I’ll be satisfied. Psychologists know that human beings need hope to survive, to carry on living. If you are not to lose hope, you have to believe there must be something that will satisfy your deep spiritual hunger. To use the language of the Bible, there must be bread out there that gives life!

In John chapter 6 we are introduced to this bread that gives life.  In the middle of the chapter (John 6:35-40) it says that Jesus, who is the spiritual food that satisfies the deepest hunger, will bring about his Father’s will to give eternal resurrection life to all whom the Father gives to him. Of these Jesus will never lose or cast out any who comes to him by faith. Come and feast on the Bread of Life!

In order to get a feel for the context and get a enough background information to profitably consider this passage, it’s necessary to back up a little to the beginning of this episode in the ministry of Jesus–back to the start of John 6.  Here we read how Jesus fed at least 5000 people in a remote location starting with only a few loaves of bread. The next day the multitude ran after Jesus looking for another miraculous sign. They weren’t satisfied with yesterday’s manna and wanted more of the same. Jesus seized the teaching moment by pointing to what they needed most of all—spiritual satisfaction in him.

One Lavish Invitation

Bread that gives death (v. 35; cf. Jn 6:27a)

Notice how Jesus zooms in on their felt needs for a miracle, for food in their bellies, and even for a political messianic deliverer. Don’t be completely put off by the term “felt need.” It refers to a hint of truth, or a partial truth, about human need. A felt need is not a total deception, otherwise you wouldn’t feel such a need at all. But a felt need cannot give you deep lasting satisfaction. It’s the kind of “bread” that perishes. These kinds of bread don’t fill you up. If you try to get lasting satisfaction out of such bread it will ultimately give you death. Because the shiny veneer will quickly tarnish. The feelings of wholeness and completeness will eventually wear off.

Think of the classic addict’s dilemma. As you keep taking drugs to get that feeling of a high, you’ll need more and more but you’ll get less and less out of it. It’s the law of diminishing returns. And the worst thing about the pursuit is that it is slowly killing you! If not physically then definitely spiritually. As you stuff yourself with bread that perishes, all the while hoping that maybe this will satisfy me, what do you think is happening to your soul? Remember the saying, “You are what you eat”? If you put your hope and trust in that which is perishing, then you will perish. Jesus is saying stop feeding yourself the kind of junk food that is destroying your spirit. Because if you put your faith in that kind of bread you’ll die! Why should you die when there is living bread?

Bread that gives life (v. 35; cf. Jn 6:27, 32-33)

manna-heavenSo what does Jesus offer instead? He extends an invitation to a lavish banquet, and he’s the menu. His restaurant’s special is…bread. Simply bread. Plain ole traditional bread. It’s what he’s famous for. But oh is it heavenly! The crowds were so excited because they thought Jesus had just reopened Moses’ restaurant “Manna From Heaven.” Maybe Jesus had graduated from Moses’ bakery school? No, Jesus corrected them. Moses didn’t give their forefathers bread from heaven. It was Jesus’ Father who had given them manna in the wilderness. And now his Father is giving the true bread from heaven. “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (v. 33). The Israelites had eaten the manna yet died in the wilderness because they had not feasted on the true bread of God. Only the Son of Man can give the food that endures to eternal life.

I wonder if some of you are hung up on Jesus calling himself “bread” because you wonder if we can, with our enlightened nutritional science, still believe it is healthy. “Is Jesus gluten-free? He better be because I’m allergic to gluten.” Don’t go down that road. That’s missing the point. Our church secretary texted me this quote someone found on Facebook. “Y’all need to stop with this ‘bread is not good for you’ foolishness. Jesus did not say ‘I am the broccoli of life.’ Nor did he say ‘give us this day our daily kale.’ Stop. Jesus is life. Jesus is the bread of life. Bread is life.” That’s a blunt way of putting it. But you get the idea. It is bread’s simplicity, availability, and effectiveness that makes this image so potent. Finding true and lasting spiritual satisfaction is not a complicated recipe with hard to find ingredients that leaves you hungry like after eating a gourmet meal. That’s the beauty of Jesus saying he is the bread of life. So let all the other siren calls of Vanity Fair fade away as you feast on Jesus. He alone is life.

Two Dissimilar Questions

Skeptical: How can I believe Jesus will satisfy me? (v. 36)

This question requires evidence of Christ’s truth claim. It is a “head” question, motivated by skepticism and doubt (either honest or dishonest). One way to explain how people intellectually struggle with this question is by emphasizing the different words in it. Putting the stress on a different word each time you ask the question changes the nuance. Try it. This exercise highlights how various doubts function when you consider Jesus and his claims about himself. Don’t miss the implicit warning. Knowing about Jesus, understanding some things about him, and even seeing him in action (whether in body or in spirit) from inside the faith community is not sufficient to bring someone to faith in Jesus.

You ask, “Why not?” Here’s why. All evidence is interpreted by your faith commitments. This is true of everyone. Two people will reason very differently about Jesus feeding the multitude and subsequently claiming he is the Bread of Life. One will weigh the evidence of Jesus’ amazing actions with his absolutely unique character and conclude Jesus is telling the truth and has backed up his words with proof. But another will weigh the same evidence and conclude Jesus is a lying charlatan or a fairy tale created by one. Did you know there are scholarly commentaries that deny Jesus was a miracle worker? The feeding of the 5000? It must have been a “miracle of sharing.” The crowds were so moved by the boy who shared his lunch of five loaves and two fish that everybody decided to share. Nothing miraculous, just a big joyous potluck picnic. Two very different conclusions that stem from very different faith commitments. One believes miracles are possible but they require sufficient proof to verify. The other denies the possibility of miracles and so must choose a naturalistic explanation no matter what the evidence. And yet both feel justified in their reasoning. The problem is not at root a lack of sufficient proof as if the head cannot affirm Jesus’ claim. The problem is spiritual in nature. It has to be since your view of all evidence is filtered through your view of the world, of truth, and of God. The Bible says we need God’s power to break free from our skepticism about Jesus. It’s not unusual for people to take a cold hard look at who Jesus is and what he said about himself and walk away from him. Jesus knew this. That’s why he was not surprised by those who saw his miracles yet didn’t believe in him. Why? Because he knows sinners don’t just have head issues, but heart issues as well.

Fearful: How can I trust Jesus won’t reject me? (vv. 37-40)

This second question requires evidence of Christ’s decisive love. It is not so much a “head” question as a “heart” question, motivated by fear and insecurity. Something more than evidence is required for everyone who comes to Jesus in faith. God must also disarm the skeptic’s heart by preemptively “giving him” to Jesus. All those the Father gives to Jesus will come to Jesus. Every single one. If you’ve come to Jesus and believed in him as the Savior of sinners, as the Bread of Life, then you can be sure of this: before you came and believed, God the Father gave you to Jesus. That’s why you came to Jesus and believed in him. Not despite the evidence or by ignoring the evidence since that would be a blind leap of faith. Rather God’s Spirit now enables you to rightly see how Jesus has revealed himself. You rightly see Jesus because you already belonged to him. Knowing that should give you a great deal of satisfaction. But your tender and fragile heart still asks questions. You need assurance that Jesus won’t reject you, that he will never cast you out. That you’ll always belong to him and he’ll never break your heart.

There is a story in byFaith magazine of a group who are interviewing displaced believers from the Middle East who have fled ISIS and immigrated to the United States. These people (mostly Syrians) lived in some of the most ancient Christian communities that are now endangered to the point of extinction. And they are feeling forgotten, rejected, and cast out. A ministry working with Catholic University called “Christian Communities of the Middle East: A Cultural Heritage Project” is showing these emotionally fragile believers Christ’s love by listening to their stories and digitally preserving their particular cultural expressions before they are lost forever with the passage of time. Listen to what one woman who interviews these folks says. “One of the most emotional things we hear, often through tears, is, ‘Thank you. Thank you for caring about us.’” Here are heartbroken people who are healed by a simple act of Christian love that says, “You matter. I will not cast you out. And neither will Jesus.” This kind of love is deeply satisfying because it points you to the Bread of Life—the one who will never ever reject you and who will satisfy like nothing else when life comes crashing down around you.

So what can you do if you are an honest skeptic searching for the truth about Jesus? Recognize that your thinking is probably clouded to some degree. Are there non-rational reasons why you may prefer Jesus not be the Bread of Life? Would your lifestyle, values, and most cherished beliefs be threatened if you start believing you have to come to Jesus? To believe in him? To trust him with your remaining doubts? Stop fooling yourself by pretending your heart doesn’t influence your head. Admit your reasons for questioning Jesus are rooted in your faith commitments. Now what if you are already a Christian but you struggle with fears. Are you afraid Jesus will cast you out, that you won’t measure up, that somehow he’ll see down to the bottom of your soul and then reject you—what can you do? Consider the ways Jesus offers guaranteed soul satisfaction.

Three Guaranteed Satisfactions

God commits himself to you (v. 37)

Everybody fears rejection. This is why you keep secrets from those you love. Because you believe deep-down that if he or she really knew me, really saw who I am, then that person (your friend, parent, child, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse) will eventually stop loving me and reject me. Rejection is one of our primal human fears. But who knows you more than God does? He knows all your secrets. He sees you all the way down and it doesn’t scare him off. “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Jesus knows you completely and he is committed to you completely. And so you don’t need to fear God’s rejection. He knows you and he still commits to you. No matter what you think, say, or do, he is committed to you. God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5b).

God accommodates himself for you (v. 38)

This is the loving will of God. Not only will God never leave you nor forsake you, he also loves you enough to relate to you. Jesus has “come down from heaven” to love you as his Father and your Father sent him to do. It’s as if he stoops down to your eye level. In former times God spoke to his people through dreams, visions, and prophets. He used to appear to us in various forms: a pillar of smoke, or an angel, or in a storm. But in all these he was withholding himself in one way or another from us because it wasn’t yet time to appear as one of us. And when the fullness of time had come he gave his one and only Son—born of woman, born of flesh, born under the law, born like you and me (Heb 1:1-2a). In Jesus Christ God accommodates himself for you. He is no longer “other,” but is now and forever like you in a way he never was before. Why did God become man? Yes, he came to be our Savior, our true Prophet, Priest, and King, to die on the cross in order to take the wrath and curse of God due to us for our sin. But why did he do all these things in this way? Yes, it’s true there was no other way for God to satisfy his justice and to save people from their sins, but at bottom the answer is because he loves you! And he will love you forever.

God will resurrect Christ and you (vv. 39-40)

There is only one way that God can love you forever. When someone dies there is a sense in which you can no longer show your love to that person. You can honor his memory with words and deeds of love, but unless that person is alive you cannot love him because he is gone. And so God, who promises to forever love those who belong to him, promises resurrection. The promise of Christ’s resurrection is implied here because Jesus is the one who will raise you to eternal life. Jesus must be raised first so that he is able to do his Father’s will. “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Your heavenly Father guaranteed he would resurrect Jesus from the dead so he might live forever. And he did! And because Jesus lives forever he is able to guarantee eternal resurrection life to all who belong to him. Now Jesus the Bread of Life will give eternal life to you who feast on him.

How can Jesus make all these promises to satisfy your deepest hunger and guarantee he will keep his word? He can give you living bread because he gave up his claim on it. As he fasted in the wilderness he refused to turn stones to bread because he was saving the true bread for you. He refused manna from heaven to feed you the true bread from heaven. On the cross his body was broken and he cried out in thirst so that you might be filled and satisfied by his body and blood broken for you. At the moment when his heart was consumed with fear and insecurity, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). He was given over to death and judgment so that you might be given to God, forgiven by God, and granted eternal life. Jesus was lost and cast out by his Father so you would be given to Jesus and he would never cast you out. Because of what Jesus accomplished for you, now God’s commitment to you, his relationship with you, and his promise to resurrect you are guaranteed. When you begin to see Jesus as the Bread of Life broken for you, you’ll begin to feel those spiritual hunger pangs. He is the Bread of Life. For you. Only he can satisfy your deepest needs. Come and take him.

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